Students Charting Their Own Course

Graduate with Global GCDSince its founding, MPA has pioneered whole child education in the Twin Cities with a commitment to helping students deepen their understanding of themselves and the world around them. We persistently innovate in alignment with that core value, providing experiences that are challenging to replicate anywhere else.

One of MPA’s visionary programs is the Graduate Certificate of Distinction (GCD). It inspires students’ educational quests in one of four areas: Global Studies, Science Technology Engineering Math & Design (STEM), Fine Arts, and as of this year, Literary Arts. Consistent with the essence of student voice, where students actively shape curriculum and impact their education, MPA encourages and recognizes excellence that takes place outside of our already rigorous curriculum. The GCD program was designed to provide committed students a way to formalize their work. Further, it embodies MPA’s willingness to encourage engagement between students and teachers. A journey of passion, commitment, and hard work, the amount of individualized engagement required to successfully support Upper School students who pursue this challenge can only be offered by a dedicated faculty that interacts one-on-one with each candidate.

“Over the years, Upper School faculty and administrators observed amazing kids pursuing what could only be described as ‘passion projects’—students who dove into fields purely to spend time deepening their understanding,” faculty advisors Kari Kunze (Global), Lisa Buck (Fine Arts), and Jane Anderson (STEM) share. “They were not necessarily those with the highest test scores or GPAs, but students who were independently driven to quench their own thirst for knowledge.”

The GCD program is not a one-size-fits-all concept, nor is it for the majority of students. It’s a time-consuming experience for juniors and seniors who are already naturally exploring multiple subjects in depth. And it’s clear that the student must be leading the process to make this work.

“If you imagine the candidate in front of the line with the advisor close behind and their family supporting from the rear, that’s a good model,” observes Buck. The faculty advisor serves as a sounding board or brainstorming partner and parents can help by factoring their student’s area of passion into family activities, but ultimately, the student is responsible for seeking out new experiences that support the GCD honor. “What those kids offer, in terms of sharing what they’ve pursued, is extremely inspiring to us as teachers and advisors,” says Kunze. “The role of the faculty is to incite curiosity, help build confidence, and cheer them on, but we gain a great deal in the process,” Buck adds.

Graduate with STEM GCDClass of 2018 alum Pranay Somayajula, now at The George Washington University, shares that he chose to pursue the Global Certificate and “the most valuable part of the program was the way it motivated me to get out of my comfort zone and explore the full range of cultural and foreign-policy opportunities the Twin Cities has to offer.” Maija Olson ’17 reflects on her Global Certificate as well, saying, “The freedom to guide my learning offered a new kind of independence. I enjoyed the ability to deeply explore various world issues and focus on something I was truly passionate about.”

The final presentations have turned out to be transformational for students–sometimes unexpectedly. Even when candidates were extremely nervous to get up before their teachers and present their reports at the end of their senior year, there is an evident level of maturity and empowerment along with a feeling of great accomplishment once they were done.

Alex Esch ’18 remarks that although she would’ve completed all the necessary hours in the Fine Arts area because of her personal interest, “The presentation requirement was incredibly valuable because it gave me the opportunity to share my passion and all the work I completed with teachers and fellow classmates. It was amazing to feel the support of the MPA community—especially from my personal advisor, Ms. Buck—as I expressed my love of the fine arts. She was always willing to answer questions and just be there as part of my artist’s journey.” It is truly a unique opportunity to be recognized by academic elders who have served as mentors and who can now formally honor the students’ hard work and devotion to education.

These students are charting their own course—one that can’t be shown by test scores, GPAs, or more traditional forms of recognition. The GCD program takes whole child education to a deeper level, honoring the unique contributions and multi-faceted academic experiences of each candidate. We’re looking for students to push themselves out of their normal routine in order to build multiple capabilities that intersect.

For more information on MPA’s Graduate Certificate of Distinction program, visit

Defining Character

Senior Service project fundraiserAt home, you teach your children values. Shouldn’t their school do the same? Respect and integrity are integral components of the Mounds Park Academy mission, and character development is woven into the MPA experience. Rooted in the idea that the human character is malleable and children are exceptionally capable of positively impacting the world, character has been taught as one part of the whole child at Mounds Park Academy since 1982.

Respect, integrity, and global responsibility are as central to the mission of the school as intellectual ambition and effective communication. Varied, creative, and always evolving, how each teacher approaches character education is as unique as their own DNA. Teacher autonomy applies to all disciplines at MPA and is highly valued by teachers and administrators alike. It relies on mutual trust and is based on the idea that teachers are professionals who know their students best.

When the desire for formal character education during the early, foundational years of MPA rose to the surface, in true MPA fashion, leadership turned to our in-house experts—teachers. A committee composed solely of teachers was formed to establish CHAMP, a cohesive program with a strong academic foundation. The key components of CHAMP (Character Happens At Mounds Park) still hold true today: a partnership between home and school is essential; character education is embedded into the full curricular and extracurricular experience; adults intentionally model the character we expect; strong character and positive behavioral choices should be practiced; and ongoing evaluation and evolution are needed to ensure the program’s viability. Seven character traits of the program were identified—friendship, compassion, respect, self-control, responsibility, cooperation, integrity—with inclusiveness, courage, and mindfulness being added in recent years. Read More

Diving Deeper Into Rigor With Purpose

Upper School students in the labAs a top ranked college prep school, MPA has the responsibility to prepare students for college, and more importantly, for life. At every grade level, MPA finds a developmentally appropriate way to incorporate rigor–not just for the sake of a rigorous education, but to challenge students to push their limits, discover what they are truly capable of.

Being experts in their field, MPA teachers are tremendously passionate and dedicated to getting students to not only answer the “what,” but the “why.” They inventively design learning opportunities with real-world applications for our students. They equip their students to use their knowledge to make the world a better place.

This is rigor with purpose.

What does rigor with purpose look like?

MPA’s highly rigorous education does not challenge top students by piling on busywork, nor does it take away support and individual attention from a teacher. It’s about diving deeper.

It looks like PreK, our youngest students, digging into a dinosaur fossil lesson in the Makerspace to explore how the biology and science of the world of the past influences the one of the future.

It looks like Middle School students blossoming into freethinkers, discovering the independent freedom of being resourceful, organized, and adaptable as the guided lessons of early childhood give way to multistep research projects and open-ended discussions in their classrooms.

It looks like Upper School physics students venturing out into our community to address problems, and then reactively designing, engineering, and manufacturing 3D-printed tangible solutions to improve them and our overall physical campus. Read More

A Lesson In Standing Out

Mr. Vergin talks with a student What is it about great teachers that makes them stand out?

In MPA Upper School teacher Mike Vergin, it’s a commitment to knowledge about his subject matter, synchronized with a sense of humility and a willingness to let students pursue their own interests (a major part of what defines him as an educator). His quiet, laid-back demeanor makes him approachable, but his students will assure you that he is incredibly passionate, whip-smart, and extremely sharp on a wide range of subjects.

Vergin has taught social studies at MPA for 24 years and has been an MPA parent for 15. His current classes are ninth grade Honors World History, AP World History 10, World Religions and Constitutional Law. He has also helped coach MPA’s award-winning Debate and Speech Teams.

Vergin upholds the MPA tradition of sparking vibrant discussions in the classroom, and he credits his debate experience to making all the difference in his ability to credibly see and present both sides of an argument. He appreciates it when his students take risks by leaving their comfort zones and engaging in discussions on important but controversial topics. “Here you can disagree, you can evolve in your thinking, and you can question your original stance. This is a place where being curious and informing yourself is cool, and we hold space for the messy process that it sometimes takes to fully develop a position.” Read More

Building Early Childhood Skills During the COVID-19 Pandemic

early childhood Student playing To say the least, parenting young children has presented many new challenges throughout the last two years. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in fewer opportunities for children to interact with their peers and develop independence. As students ages three to five prepare to attend PreK or kindergarten at MPA, many parents have questions and concerns about their child’s social and emotional readiness during this challenging time.

We are here to say, fear not! Young children are incredibly resilient, and they will rapidly make up for lost time. We have assembled some suggestions to help you ease into preparing your child for school this fall.

Start With Play
Young children learn best through play and thrive on interactions that help them grow. Playing make-believe is an excellent way for young children to learn and practice new skills. Pretending together provides an example of behavior for a child to emulate. Here are some fun ideas for learning opportunities disguised as pretend play:

  • Play “story time” and take turns telling a story while the other listens.
  • Go on a picnic, even if it’s indoors. Let your child use a lunch box
    and practice eating and taking care of their leftovers and clean up
  • Pretend to be a new friend. Teach your child how to introduce
    themselves, ask for the other person’s name, and invite the friend to play.
  • Have quiet time. This is a part of the PreK day at MPA. Even if your child
    no longer naps, practice having some quiet time in the afternoon. Books, quiet music, and dim lighting can help them relax.

Read More

Science, Art, And Character Intersect In The Makerspace

students beginning to design their facesIf you are familiar with MPA, then you are probably also familiar with the AnnMarie Thomas Makerspace. Electrifying in its concept and its form, this area of the school houses the intersection of creativity and innovation. The Makerspace is the physical manifestation of MPA’s long-standing belief that learning should be hands-on, experiential, and joyful.

Keith Braafladt, MPA’s technology and innovation teacher, has already found himself right at home in the Makerspace during his first year as a faculty member. As a new friendly face on campus, Keith has dedicated this year to developing strong relationships with MPA teachers to integrate and deliver the best Makerspace curriculum and experience to our students. Curriculum that exists in the Makerspace connects liberal arts thinking with 21st century skills and competencies, providing students with opportunities to construct meaning through making via practical, hands-on, interdisciplinary, and problem-based projects. Most often, the work is centered around the design thinking process, a systematic way to solve real-world problems that major corporations use in the workplace.

student laying out a faceOne of the most memorable projects to occur in the Makerspace this year is still adorning the outer windows of the room, prompting those who pass by to pause and share a smile that is reflecting back at them. The activity was informally and aptly named “making faces,” because that is precisely what Lower School students did. Essentially, they observed, looking for faces out in the world. And under Keith’s model, the idea was to use all of the donated, found, and collected materials at the students’ disposal in the Makerspace to create a face out of everyday objects themselves. Keith has friends at the Exploratorium in San Francisco that have been doing a similar activity that inspired this one. Read More

Innovating Our Future

from Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

Happy new year! I hope that you and your family had an enjoyable break, spending quality time with friends and loved ones.

It was journalist and author William Vaughan who said, “An optimist stays up until midnight to see the New Year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves.” I suppose I am neither as I was in bed by 10:30 PM on New Year’s Eve. However, I do consider myself an optimist and while as a family we experienced tremendous loss in 2021, I do recognize the many good things that happened. As head of school of Mounds Park Academy, I am grateful that we were safely in-person and on campus for the majority of the year. The dedication and hard work of our amazing faculty and staff, a strong partnership with parents, and the resiliency of our students are certainly to be celebrated.

A new year brings new beginnings. A new year holds promise and opportunity. As a school, we begin the year with a new strategic plan, 2024ward. The new plan builds upon our former plan, Momentum 2020, and captures the energy to embrace the future with opportunity and enthusiasm. Strategic planning is one of the most important responsibilities of the MPA Board of Trustees.

Planning began in early 2019 by a constituent represented task force commissioned by the Board but was halted by the pandemic in the spring of 2020. Instead, the focus of the Board of Trustees and administration shifted from long-range strategic planning to the development a comprehensive scenario analysis and effort to mitigate the impact of COVID-19. Given the demand on the school’s fiscal and human resources necessary to successfully navigate the ongoing pandemic, the board and head of school agreed to embark on an alternative, abbreviated approach. Read More

Parents Connect: January Events

January Events

We are looking forward to connecting with MPA families in 2022! Upcoming events and opportunities to look forward to include Family Education Evenings, All-School Sno Daze activities, Lower School Valentine’s Day party, and Middle School Café. Keep your eye on the Panther Post for sign-ups and opportunities to volunteer!

January Walks with Dogs

Friday, January 7 and 14, join Michelle Mick for a walk in a local dog park. Bring your dog or not, we’ll meet at Battle Creek Dog Park, a lovely, big, off-leash dog park with 35 acres at 8:15 AM. Parking is off Upper Afton Road, in the parking lot next to the dog park. Look for Michelle and her dog (Rufus), near the entrance of the dog park.

For your GPS, the address is: 2350 Upper Afton Road, Maplewood, MN 55119. The contact person is Michelle Mick, and please feel free to SMS or call 651-328-7312 if you can’t find us!

Parent Winter Walk at 7 Vines

January 28, 5:45-9 PM, $55. Come enjoy a winter evening and snowshoe walk with other MPA Parents at 7 Vines Vineyard in Dellwood, MN! Ticket Price includes snowshoe rental (with help putting them on!) for a walk around the vineyard lit by twinkling candlelight ice luminaries, a complimentary beverage (mulled wine, kombucha, fancy coffee), four rounds of Bingo for prizes, s’mores, cocoa, and cider. 7 Vines will have exclusive pricing on food and wine that evening, as well. Attendance is limited to 100, and the Parents Association has reserved some spots for this event, but it does sell out. Please let us know if you are interested in joining in the fun by January 10. Contact Staci Banks,, or Venmo the cost of the tickets to @Staci-Banks-Hehenberger. Unfortunately, tickets are not refundable.

RSVP To Discover Something Remarkable

upper school biology labRSVP to discover something remarkable: life at MPA. We warmly invite your family to attend the MPA Preview on Sunday, January 30 at 2 PM. It’s the perfect opportunity to discover why you belong here!

Though virtual, this event will provide prospective families with an opportunity to truly discover the type of remarkable hands on learning that MPA students do each day. You will rotate among several classes taught by our expert faculty. These will be interactive, experiential sessions that are actually abbreviated versions of real MPA lessons, modified to be appropriate for all ages. Prospective families will also have an opportunity to take a virtual tour and experience 15 of our state-of-the-art spaces.

Lower School Sessions

Keep It Up with Tim Sheehan, Lower School physical education teacher
Improve your volleying and striking skills during the Keep It Up session. You will learn how to properly toss, catch, volley, and work through several challenges that are safe to do at home. You only need a balloon or two socks rolled up in a ball and any type of basket (laundry basket, bucket, paper bag) to participate!

Dreaming Up: A Celebration of Building with Tami Fisher, second grade teacher
After a quick tour of the Makerspace, Ms. Fisher will share a read aloud and lead a short lesson connecting math, literature, and critical thinking. Using the elements of design thinking and brainstorming, families will choose a structure or material they were inspired by from the anchor text and create their own structure. Families are encouraged to participate in the brainstorming and planning, so that they may build their structure at a later time.

Read More

A Deep Commitment To MPA

from Gina Wallraff, Chief Financial and Operations Officer

One Thursday per month you will see a guest Head’s Message from a member of the Institutional Advancement Team. We hope these additional perspectives will help you catch a glimpse inside the innerworkings of your school.

The Board of Trustees for Mounds Park Academy is the governing authority of the school. It has ultimate responsibility for the school’s financial stability and integrity. The board is made up of parents, alumni, parents of alumni, and other professionals. Along with Dr. Bill Hudson, head of school, I have the honor and the privilege of working with this group of dedicated people who are deeply committed to the health and vitality of the school.

Among other roles related to the mission and vision of the school, the Board of Trustees and its subcommittees, like the Finance Committee, has responsibility for the following:

  • determination of tuition levels;
  • effective financial oversight; and
  • realistic budgeting and monitoring of budgets.

This article aims to provide a glimpse into how the board approaches these responsibilities and the annual cycle of budgeting and tuition setting.

The annual budget process for the next academic year begins soon after the current school year starts, 10 months before the start of the next school year. First, an enrollment forecast is created. In this early stage the forecast is an estimate based on historical trends for current students leaving and new students joining. The enrollment forecast is reviewed by the Admissions team and the Head of School to evaluate the reasonableness of the estimated number of new students and projected total enrollment. Read More